Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."
And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.
Sermon for Pentecost Sunday 5/31/20
The Tower of Babel
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In our lesson this morning, you heard the account of Pentecost. What you didn't hear was that the miracle of the tongues, where the Apostles spoke in languages they had never learned, was the same thing as what happened at the tower of Babel, except that the purpose and effect of this sudden linguistic shift was not confusion but understanding and peace. Although what happened was similar in certain respects, it was the undoing of the tower of Babel. It was a mark in time that the effects of sin were being undone since sin had been forgiven. Let us look at the tower experience, and what it meant, and what Pentecost means in the light of it. Our theme is the tower of Babel.
The Tower of Babel is all about sin. I know that some of you don't want to hear me preach about sin. That is because every time I do, the sermon seems to point right at you. There are a few of you who think I am picking on you when I preach. I don't know who you are, or which of you it is, but I know that some people feel that way. Which is funny, because I preach to me when I preach about sin except perhaps when I urge you to come to church regularly. Obviously, I do that! But the rest of my law preaching is preached so I feel that it addresses me, and I just figure that if I am bitten by the Law, some of you will be too.
So, anyway, the Tower of Babel is about sin. God set man loose on earth after the flood with just one simple set of instructions "And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." God wanted man to spread out and fill the earth. The generations after the flood had another idea. They did not want to spread out. They did not want to be scattered. They wanted to remain together. And they said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."
They were not building a tower to reach into heaven at least not the heaven we hope to go to. They were not trying to climb up to God. They were trying to build a skyscraper. They wanted a building that could be seen from all over the plains of Shinar. They wanted a rallying point to keep people together. It was intended that no one would move to where they could not see the tower.
Admittedly, their vision was stunted. They would have been happy to build something a hundred feet tall ten stories would have seemed almost too tall to endure. We build skyscrapers ten times that tall. And God has no problem with tall buildings. The building was not the problem nor was the desire to build a tall building. The problem was the reason for the building. They built it to defy God. They built it to deliberately disobey the command of God.
And God recognized that when we work together, we can do almost anything. I cannot imagine how people two or three hundred years ago could have conceived of the words of God, And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them." In a pre-technological age, those words would have had such a limited meaning. But we have sent me to the moon and brought them back! We can do genetic engineering! It may not be much today, but it is amazing that we can do it! And the next decades could see breath-taking advances in our ability. We can fly. We can send manned boats under the water with no need to surface for over a year! We are building a space station. Computers talk, and when you talk to them, they type! They are making movies now without the need for actors. We have seen a talking mouse, a talking pig, long-extinct dinosaurs brought back to celluloid life, there are even talking dinosaurs on TV, and I do not mean to include the members of Congress!
God created us to be marvelously creative. But Nimrod and his crew were not just creative, they were stubbornly rebellious. The tower was an act of sin, thumbing their collective nose at God. And God put a stop to it. He confused their tongues. He gave each family group a new language. I say it was family groups because if every single person spoke a different language, families would have been impossible. God wanted families and reproduction, so I guess that it was by family groups, so that tribes moved away together. But work on the tower was impossible when one worker - or group of workers could no longer understand the next. Human fears and human egos forced men apart.
The tower of Babel confusion of languages was God's judgment on the rebellion of the builders. It was a response to their rejection of God and His will for them, and it was effective because of their sin. If they had been willing to work with one another and patiently try to understand one another, they could have learned one another's language. But their sin, their egos, and their fears combined to drive them apart.
The same combination of human traits works yet today. Our sins, our egos, and our fears about what others are doing, or might do, still causes divisions and drives people apart today. The Church should be immune, but she is not. God has forgiven us, so we should forgive one another. But all too often, offenses and sins are stored up instead of forgiven and forgotten. Our egos tell us that we are somehow better than the others, whoever they may be, and so we feel justified in holding grudges, in making life difficult for those we consider our adversaries, or in planning and politicking to control or defeat them even in the Church. We fear that our adversaries are plotting and planning and working against us, so we respond many times by doing the same.
Pentecost Sunday is the celebration of the truth that the Gospel has ended the reign of sin. On Pentecost, God undid the power of Babel for just a few hours, to speak the good news of forgiveness and salvation across the barriers of language. He didn't give everyone the same language, He gave His chosen Apostles all of the languages so that everyone could hear the gospel in their own language. It was a foretaste - a sample in advance - of what life beyond sin is going to be like. When God raises us to eternal life, there will be no language barrier, because the confusion of tongues is the result of sin and a symptom of sin. Where sin is not, the language barriers will not exist either.
Nor will the other divisions caused by sin. Our egos will not stand in our ways because we will know that all that we have, all that we know, and all that we are is from God. He chooses to make us who we are and give us the abilities we enjoy. That is true now, but when sin is not confusing our minds, we will recognize that truth and live in the light of it fully. We will also have no fear of one another, since we will all walk in the light of the Lord and sin will be unheard of among us. The legacy of the Tower of Babel will be gone.
Pentecost Sunday, two thousand years ago, illustrated what it would be like what it will be like. With the languages (and the sin) out of the way, the people rejoiced together. It didn't matter who they were or where they had come from, they were simply the people of God together! Luke writes in Acts that they were continually together for worship - the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer and they were all feeling a sense of awe.
That is the beginning of heaven! They were united without regard for who the other was. They were excited to be together. They were eager to worship, and they were all filled with the sense of awe that they were part of something wonderful and that something wonderful had come upon them. When we get to heaven, we will all be happy to be there. We will be happy everyone else there is there. We will not ask where they came from, or judge them by their looks or speech. We will be filled with awe at life in the presence of our Lord and we will worship together with great joy and great zeal!
We can start right now. We live in the glow of Pentecost, not the shadow of the Tower of Babel. We are united by the Holy Spirit, who is given to everyone that believes. We have this great meal of fellowship and unity before us on the Altar. We are here to worship and rejoice in our salvation. What we want to respond to is the power of Pentecost not the confusion of Babel. Our text tells us that the name of the place was "Babel" because of the confusion of the languages there. The name of this place is Immanuel, God with us. This is a place of grace and faith and hope and love. Here is where we begin to unravel the confusion of Babel by means of the love of God and the forgiveness of sins - forgiveness given to us, and forgiveness pouring out from us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)